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Belgian bishops criticise vote to allow children to choose euthanasia

By on Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard (CNS)

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard (CNS)

Belgium’s Catholic bishops have criticised a parliamentary vote paving the way for sick children and dementia patients to choose euthanasia.

“The voices of religious leaders have plainly not been listened to,” said Jesuit Father Tommy Scholtes, bishops’ conference spokesman.

“While everyone wants a gentle death, public opinion appears unaware that euthanasia is a technical act that ends life abruptly. This is why we reject it and believe palliative care offers a better solution,” he told the Catholic News Service.

He said Church leaders would continue to back a silent vigil near Parliament in Brussels to highlight the dangers, but he expected the legislation to receive final approval early next year.

The Belgian Senate voted last week to approve the legislation, which would allow euthanasia for dementia patients and children “capable of discernment” and “affected by incurable illness or suffering.”

Meanwhile, the bishops’ conference president, Archbishop Andre Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels, said all main faiths in Belgium were united against the proposed measure, adding that he regretted mass protests could not be mobilised as effectively as in neighbouring France.

“We don’t easily raise our voices here, but this is something extremely important, and I hope the political class will be persuaded to reflect,” Archbishop Leonard told KTO Catholic television on Saturday.

Euthanasia was made legal in Belgium in 2002. In 2012, the Belgian Health Ministry recorded more than 1,400 deaths from euthanasia, a 25 percent increase over 2011.

The law restricts euthanasia to terminal patients, but researchers say reasons for patients choosing euthanasia have included blindness, anorexia and botched operations.

In a November open letter, 16 pediatricians backed the proposed bill, claiming children facing illness and death “develop a great maturity very rapidly.”

However, the claim was rejected by professors from the Catholic University of Leuven, who said in a statement the concept of “unbearable suffering” should not be left solely to doctors and psychiatrists.

Meanwhile, a Catholic palliative care unit director, Catherine Dopchie, told KTO that suffering was “subjective and not measurable.” She said the legislation risked depriving patients of hope and making medical staff “intolerant and incompetent.”

“Euthanasia is a cheap technical way to pay off the account of human suffering,” the oncologist said. “A doctor who believes he is capable of predicting human suffering may be even more dangerous than a doctor who believes in aggressive therapy.”

During the heated debate in the Senate last week, Sen Philippe Mahoux said euthanasia was already practiced on terminally ill children at some Belgian hospitals. He said giving children the right to “die with dignity” would be the “ultimate gesture of humanity.”